Key Trade Nominees Approved by Senate, House Subcommittee Criticizes China

Stephanie Henry

Key Trade Nominees Approved by Senate

The Senate approved Robert Holleyman as Deputy US Trade Representative and Nathan Sheets as Under Secretary for International Affairs at the US Treasury Department yesterday. The approvals fill the remaining deputy-level positions overseeing US commercial relations with China in the Obama administration’s second term.

Holleyman replaces Demetrios Marantis, who left the post in May 2013. Holleyman is expected to cover a portfolio encompassing Asia, investment, innovation, intellectual property, and services issues. He was most recently the CEO and founder of the cloud technology development company Cloud4Growth. From 1990 to 2013 he was the President and CEO of the Business Software Alliance. Holleyman also previously worked for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Sheets assumes Lael Brainard’s role and will take part in key financial and commercial policy negotiations with China, including the Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED). He was most recently acting as counselor to the US Treasury Department, and previously held posts at Citigroup, the Federal Reserve, and the International Monetary Fund.

House Subcommittee Criticizes China

Several Members of Congress took a highly critical stance on China’s enforcement of its Antimonopoly Law (AML), as well as broader trade issues, at a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. Chair of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Rep. Steve Chabot (R, OH-1), said China had become more assertive and has used the AML to target foreign companies in ways that violate its World Trade Organization commitments. Others, including witness Christopher Johnson—Senior Adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies—said China’s motivations for these investigations likely include bureaucratic ambition to strengthen power among ministries and promotion of China’s state capitalism model. 

Johnson commented that the US-China dialogue had drifted since President Xi and Obama’s June 2013 meeting in Sunnylands, California, and suggested that channels used in the past to discuss issues have become less valuable. He remarked that the S&ED has become “a fairly useless entity,” and that “senior officials in both capitals bemoan the lack of meaningful strategic dialogue” between the US and China. Johnson did not offer suggestions for an improved dialogue structure, however. 

Rep. Matt Salmon (R, AZ-5) and Chairman Chabot questioned the efficacy of the Obama administration’s “Asia pivot,” and said US companies in China now seem to face a harsher business climate than in recent years. Johnson said that as a result, companies seeking to enter China are likely to be more thoughtful about their market-entry plans in the future.

Johnson also noted that market reform in China is struggling, likely due to political opposition, a sluggish economy, and the scale of reform challenges.

Other topics discussed at the hearing included the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, currency valuation, intellectual property protection, and maritime disputes.